Donald Drumpf's shock-and-awe populism has resonated with the Republican voter-base, resulting in a double-digit lead over his next closest rival in the Republican Presidential primaries. Outrageous attacks on Hispanics, women, and fellow candidates have led to a surge in popularity across the country. There’s just one problem: the support of angry, uneducated white men is not enough to win the White House in modern America.
Shouts of "White Power!" rang out repeatedly at a recent Alabama Trump rally. In Boston, a homeless Hispanic man was assaulted and urinated on by a pair of “passionate” Trump-supporting brothers. White supremacists have been lining up to endorse Trump’s candidacy.
Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.
The success of Trump’s campaign is exposing the Republican Party’s increasingly radicalized and disenfranchised voter base. The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos describes Trump’s coalition as one of ‘The Fearful and the Frustrated’. As he explains, "[t]o inhabit Trump’s landscape for a while…is to encounter a confederacy of the frustrated—less a constituency than a loose alliance of Americans who say they are betrayed by politicians, victimized by a changing world, and enticed by Trump’s insurgency."
Supporters crow that Trump can’t be bought, and that he’ll clean out the excess of modern American politics. Trump’s base revels in his repeated attacks against minorities, women, and fellow candidates—for them, Trump is simply ‘saying what everyone’s already thinking’: that Mexican immigrants are rapists, thieves, layabouts, and a drain on the American economy; that feminism and political correctness has gone too far; and that "Obozo’s" socialist agenda is actively undermining American prosperity.
As Trump’s rhetoric invigorates his base, other Republican hopefuls must adapt, or risk falling by the wayside. Ben Carson, who currently polls at second behind Trump, also strikes a populist tone, endorsing stricter immigration laws, deriding political correctness, and galvanizing Americans who just want things to be the way they ‘used to be’. Jeb Bush, who is married to a Mexican American immigrant, remains the most immigrant-friendly candidate in the race. To say it isn’t helping him would be an understatement: the target of continual abuse from Trump, Bush trails at a distant third in the Republican primary polling.
Trump’s populist rhetoric may be enough to secure the Republican nomination, but white-identity politics won’t marshal a broad enough voter coalition to challenge the eventual Democratic nominee. Instead, we’ll see a continuation of 2008 and 2012 voting trends, in which Obama’s broad coalitions of minorities prevailed over the Republicans despite them receiving a majority of the white vote.
Rather than exclude minorities, the Republican Party must establish itself as a reasonable alternative to the Democrats. Essentially, the Republican Party needs to re-imagine itself as a ‘big-tent’ party if it wishes to remain relevant as the American-Hispanic population continues to grow. Republicans cannot afford to alienate such a large pool of potential voters.
Whether Trump truly expects to be able to win the Presidency with his current trajectory is an open question. Strategically, he’s between a rock and a hard place—he likely knows that he won’t win with such a narrow base of support, but his exclusionary rhetoric is the main reason he has such support to begin with.
The success of Trump’s nativist message has to be a wake-up call for the Republican elite—diversify, or lose. The GOP can no longer remain relevant as the haven of the intolerant, the uneducated, and the reactionary. The GOP must let go of white-identity politics if it wants a chance at winning the White House in 2016.